Hana hou! Peace Corps veterans back in the field
By Matthew Barakat
By Matthew Barakat
WASHINGTON — In its 45 years, the Peace Corps has sent more than 180,000 volunteers around the world to help people in developing nations and serve as goodwill ambassadors for the United States.
The earliest Peace Corps veterans are heading into retirement or ready for sabbaticals, and many are eager for another opportunity to serve the way they did as passionate young adults in the 1960s and '70s.
"I've always been more comfortable being a fish out of water," said Susan Ely, who volunteered with the Peace Corps in Costa Rica and Haiti years ago but returned to live in Washington.
Ely, now 51, was to leave today for a new overseas assignment through Peace Corps Encore!, a newly established nonprofit that connects Peace Corps veterans to short-term assignments that tap their expertise.
The group posted Ely, who has been a director at nonprofit organizations, to India for a three-week assignment working with the United Way of Mumbai and other charitable groups, working on projects such as rebuilding a fishing village destroyed in the 2004 tsunami.
She'll be working on what is billed in the nonprofit community as capacity building — building and maintaining donor databases, coordinating volunteers and handling a host of logistical issues peculiar to the world of nonprofit groups.
"I think a lot of the issues that nonprofits face are universal," Ely said. "Any nonprofit organization should be appreciative of its donors and volunteers, and you want the structure of the organization to reflect those values."
Ely's assignment was one of the first for Peace Corps Encore!
Peace Corps Encore! is not affiliated with the Peace Corps itself, but its executive director, Maura Fulton, said other nonprofit groups have been eager to establish partnerships when they realize all her volunteers are Peace Corps veterans.
"I was humbled by how quickly people recognized the value that Peace Corps veterans would bring," said Fulton, who just returned from India and Bangladesh seeking partnerships with other nonprofits.
She said the group hopes to place 12 volunteers in assignments in Armenia, Peru, India and Indonesia by the end of the year.
Doug Long, president of the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Hawaii Association, said he could see the value Peace Corps Encoure! might bring and that some of the 1,000 past Peace Corps volunteers in Hawai'i might be interested in serving with the group.
"It's certainly something I would consider," said Long, who has been on two missions, in 1992 and 2003. "We do have other volunteers that are retired and it's probably something they might consider at some point in time."
Peace Corps veterans "have experience living in other cultures for extended periods of time, so they are culturally sensitive," said Kyong Suk Aagesen, a regional director with United Way International, which has already formed a partnership with Fulton's group.
The Peace Corps itself recruits veterans for second tours, and it has a separate Crisis Corps that uses veterans on assignments ranging from three months to a year.
Peace Corps Encore! focuses on shorter assignments, typically three weeks to three months, so its efforts actually complement the Peace Corps' efforts, rather than create competition, said Peace Corps spokesman Nathan Arnold.
Getting Peace Corps veterans out into the world, especially at a time when America's image is tarnished in the international community, can only help, Quigley said.
The Peace Corps was established in 1961 after President John F. Kennedy challenged college students to serve their country in the cause of peace.
The organization still enjoys a good reputation, but it isn't as large as it once was. It has grown in recent years to a current force of about 7,800, about half of what it was in its heyday in the late 1960s.Advertiser staff writer Eloise Aguiar contributed to this report.